The NIHL National League is returning to action later this month as part of a phased return.
The news has come on the day when the Elite League formally drew a line under the possibility of playing in 2020/21 and will be welcomed by fans in a season that has barely started.
While the National League will begin, discussions are still ongoing over whether teams in the NIHL 1 North and South will play.
In a lengthy statement on the EIHA website, they’ve announced a Spring Cup to be played in February and March featuring five teams – Sheffield Steeldogs, Swindon Wildcats, Raiders, Bees and Telford Tigers.
The tournament format will be:
- Five teams playing each other home and away over seven weekends each team playing each other 3 times for a total of 12 games each
- All games to be played behind closed doors, with streaming where facilities are available
- Points to be allocated using the usual league rules, with the top placed team at the end of the series awarded the cup. If fixtures cannot be played as scheduled, the teams in conjunction with the EIHA will determine the appropriate award or rescheduling of the game.
The second phase will allow the ten teams of the NIHL National League the chance to participate in a league competition during April and May, with details, as yet to be confirmed.
One team who have opted out for the time being is Milton Keynes Lightning, who revealed they were involved with the planning of the Spring Cup series, but have opted out of the competition.
However, they are still weighing up the possibility of being involved when all teams return in April, but wouldn’t confirm their involvement one way or another as they prefer to focus on a full restart in September.
A statement on their website read: “The NIHL National owners group has tonight released an update on an upcoming series of games which will be played during February and March.
“MK Lightning was very much part of the planning and discussion of these fixtures, but we have decided not to take part in these games.
“We can see there are a number of benefits in these games taking place, but for us we would prefer to focus on our long term strength and sustainability with a view to participating in the full Season return to play we hope to see in September.
“We’ll maintain our close working relationship with the NIHL National owners group and will work out with them what role if any we’d like to play in phase 2 in April/May. Right now we’re not ruling this in or out.
Returning to play is something we desperately want. It’s not just the return of players to the ice which is important, but the ability for everyone to enjoy both the game and the experience of an amazing night out.
The NIHL National owners group has announced a 5 team Spring Cup. AIB MK Lightning⚡ has decided that we will not be taking part in this round of fixtures. Head over to our website for the full story.👇 https://t.co/jTEAqE4jBS pic.twitter.com/eiFPv297PH
— MK Lightning Ice Hockey (@MKLightningIHC) February 2, 2021
“Enabling this return is what we are focusing our efforts on. We’d like to thank our partner Planet Ice who have worked with us and have supported us as we developed our plans.”
For the NIHL, it will follow on from the Streaming Series, which took place in November over the course of three weekends, which featured Steeldogs, Wildcats and Lightning.
But as they look to return again, the EIHA also announced there will be weekly COVID testing as they look to get the sport back and playing.
Their statement added: “In developing this series, we have been heavily focused on safety, and our role as an Elite Sport during the current national lockdown.
“At all times teams will comply with government regulations and the return to play rules from the EIHA.
“To increase our insight and warning of any potential COVID infections, all teams will also be running weekly Covid testing of all players with a clear communication plan in the event of positive test results.”